Pakistan’s ex-PM Imran Khan marks presence in court as supporters clash with police
By Ariba Shahid and Akhtar Soomro
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan formally announced his presence in court in the country’s capital on Saturday, his aide said, obeying court orders after a standoff with police that led to violent clashes with his supporters has led.
Local media Geo TV reported that the trial court in Islamabad overturned the arrest warrants for his presence.
Khan, who held office from 2018 to 2022, is facing a number of legal challenges, including one that led to a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday, prompting clashes between supporters and police, also on Saturday.
Khan’s aide Fawad Chaudhry told Reuters the former prime minister’s presence had been officially registered by the court and he had left to return to his home in the city of Lahore.
According to local media, Khan’s vehicle arrived at the judicial complex in Islamabad amid clashes between police and his supporters. They reported that given the chaos surrounding the complex, he was unable to physically enter the courtroom and was eventually allowed by the judge to sign his presence from his vehicle.
He was ordered to face charges in court on Saturday for illegally selling state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries during his tenure.
Khan says he followed legal steps to acquire the gifts.
Earlier in the day, police entered Khan’s home in Lahore after he left for his court appearance in Islamabad and arrested several of his supporters on allegations of assaulting officers during clashes earlier in the week.
Another of Khan’s associates, Shireen Mazari, said police broke down the front gate of Khan’s home.
In Islamabad, the police chief told local broadcaster Geo News that Khan’s supporters attacked police near the courthouse and fired tear gas grenades, prompting police to fire more tear gas.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif criticized Khan on Twitter, saying he is using humans as human shields and trying to intimidate the judiciary.
Khan has led nationwide protests since his fall from power last year and a number of cases have been registered against him.
Earlier this week, police and Khan’s supporters clashed outside his home during the arrest attempt.
Hours before leaving his home, the former cricket star told Reuters he had formed a committee to run his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), if he was arrested.
Khan, who was shot and wounded during the election campaign in November, said in the interview the threat to his life was greater than before and claimed – without providing evidence – that his political opponents and the military wanted to prevent him later that year to run for elections.
The military and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sharif’s government has denied being behind the trials against Khan. The military, which plays an outsized role in Pakistan and has ruled the country for nearly half of its 75-year history, has said it remains neutral on politics.
The court has already issued arrest warrants for Khan in the case for failing to appear at previous hearings despite being summoned.
On his assurances that he would appear on Saturday, the court granted Khan immunity from arrest, but he said he feared the police and government were planning to take him into custody.
“It is now clear that the government (Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition) intends to arrest me even though I have been granted bail in all my cases, according to the rule of law,” Khan said on Twitter.
“It is also now apparent that the whole siege of Lahore was not about making sure I stand trial on a case, it was about putting me in jail so I could not campaign.”
Pakistan’s Information Minister said this week the government had nothing to do with the police action and the police are following court orders.
FIGHT BEFORE THE HOUSE OF LAHORE
Hundreds of supporters prevented police from entering the compound during Tuesday’s arrest attempt. Authorities said they were attacked with petrol bombs, iron bars and slingshots.
Many of the supporters stayed behind to guard Khan’s home as he left for Islamabad on Saturday.
Punjab provincial police chief Usman Anwar said at a media conference in Lahore that officers went to Khan’s home on Saturday to intercept people involved in previous clashes with police and arrested 61 people, including over the dropping petrol bombs.
Khan’s party shared footage with journalists that appeared to show police in the garden of the home in Lahore beating his supporters with batons.
Khan said his wife was alone in the house during the raid.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News police recovered weapons from premises outside Khan’s home and a search warrant. Sanaullah said law enforcement personnel did not enter the residence but stayed in the garden and driveway.
(Reporting by Akhtar Soomro in Islamabad, Ariba Shahid in Karachi, Gibran Peshimam and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore, Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)